Between Friends

 


Where were you when the Allies stormed the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944? Were you only a glimmering in your parents’ brains?

 


Where were you when the Battle of Khe Sanh began on January 21, 1968? Were you nursing the bone spurs in your heels that would eventually earn you a medical deferment from the draft? Or were you awaiting a pilot’s commission in the Texas Air National Guard?


Refugee child drawing
A drawing made by a refugee child, formerly resident in Pristina, Kosovo, depicting his horrific experiences in the Kosovo War in 1999. The drawing was taped to a wall in the Brazda refugee center in Macedonia. Photo from the U.S. Department of State and NATO.


Where were you when the United States and its allies launched the invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003, beginning an unnecessary war that would spiral the entire region into chaos? Were you looking under furniture for weapons of mass destruction, something you would joke about later?

Where were you when the world learned in April 2004 that American soldiers had been torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison? Were you throwing a few “bad apples” under the bus, rather than acknowledging a culture of cruelty encouraged from the top down in the chain of command? Or were you busy making the first year of your daytime television talk show a success? Or were you occupied with creating an illusion of yourself as a successful and hard-nosed, but fair, businessman on the first year of your television reality show that was more fiction than reality?

Dire Straits performs “The Man’s Too Strong” in concert at Wembley Arena in London, England in June 1985 during their Brothers in Arms tour.

Where were you in 2008 after conservatives had used the wedge issue of gay marriage four years earlier to whip up the ire of homophobic reactionaries and send them to the polls in just enough numbers to make it possible for the Republican candidate to steal another presidential election? Were you getting married? What does your friend, the Republican presidential candidate, have to say about that now? Is he against gay marriage only when it suits political expediency?

Where were you in August 2016 when the Turks made their first incursion into the Kurdish zone of Syria, where the Kurds had been America’s ally in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria (ISIS)? Were you listening to what the Russians had to say about your Democratic opponent in the presidential election, a practice you appear to have made into a habit since then as you extort other countries to get them to investigate your political rivals?

And where were all three of you when the brains were being passed out? It’s nice for people to have friends, but some friends are not worth having, such as a narcissistic sociopath or a war criminal, both of whom have proven time and again they look out only for themselves, and maybe their cronies as well. And in the sense of cronyism, a crony is not a true friend. And a friend may be a “sweet man” in private, but that shouldn’t shut out all the harm he’s caused in the world. Millions of Iraqis and Kurds may reflect on the old saying that “with friends like these, who needs enemies?”



β€” Vita



David Gilmour, best known as the lead guitarist for Pink Floyd, performs the Pink Floyd song “Coming Back to Life” with a new band backing him in a concert at Pompeii, Italy in July 2016.

 

None So Blind

 

“Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not:”
β€” Jeremiah 5:21, from the King James Version of the Bible.

With the release of the redacted Mueller Report last week by the presidential administration’s stooge at the Department of Justice, Attorney General William Barr, Democrats should finally let go of one of the beliefs they have clung to since Hillary Clinton’s defeat in 2016, namely that the other campaign colluded with the Russians in meddling with the election. Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team found it was not through lack of trying on the part of Republican campaign officials that collusion did not occur, but due to their bumbling incompetence.


Ms. Clinton is apparently still in denial about her loss in 2016. As we move further away from 2016 and closer to 2020, she becomes increasingly irrelevant unless – please no! – she throws her hat in the ring again. Mainstream Democrats have to get over the loss by first admitting one undeniable fact: The Republican candidate didn’t win the election as much as Ms. Clinton lost it, largely due to the arrogance and hubris that infected her campaign. The Russians didn’t help him win; she lost. The Democratic National Committee didn’t obstruct her progress; far from it, since the Committee colluded with her to obstruct the progress of her rival in the primaries, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Sexism undoubtedly worked against Ms. Clinton, though possibly only among those who weren’t going to vote for her anyway for other reasons.

Tissot The Pharisee and the publican Brooklyn
The Pharisee and the Publican, a painting from between 1886 and 1894 by James Tissot (1836-1902), based on a parable in the Gospel of Luke.

There are many things that would improve elections in this country, among them reforming the system of primaries and abolishing the Electoral College. Those two major improvements are unlikely to happen before 2020. What can and should happen this year and going into 2020 are impeachment proceedings against the president in the House of Representatives. There is enough even in the redacted version of the Mueller Report, as well as in other ongoing investigations, to start impeachment proceedings against this president. While impeachment is an indictment only, and not the entire procedure to eject a president from office, the public proceedings can lay before the public all the president’s misdeeds. If impeachment succeeds, will he be convicted at trial in the Republican controlled Senate? No.

It is important to proceed with impeachment of the president because it is the right thing to do, because the evidence against him mounts every day and the House is therefore obligated by law to proceed, and because no matter what Old Guard Democrats like California Representative Nancy Pelosi and New York Senator Chuck Schumer advise about waiting the president out until November 2020, they are wrong since they underestimate the value of the impeachment proceedings aside from the futility of achieving conviction. The Oval Office Blowhard wants to always make everything about him? Very well, let him have it, with day after day airing of dirty laundry.

One third of the American people are never going to be dissuaded from following this president no matter what comes out in an impeachment. Those people are lost to reason, as the president acknowledged in his notoriously accurate assessment of them when as a candidate he boasted he could shoot somebody in broad daylight and they would let him get away with it. The people who need to have the case against the president laid before them in a way they can’t ignore are the third of the people between the hard core MAGA brigade and the other third of the population, mainstream Democrats.

“Israelites”, a 1968 song by Desmond Dekker & The Aces.

Then see clearly enough to put before the voters a Democratic candidate who generates more widespread enthusiasm than a neoliberal hack such as Hillary Clinton. Give them someone who genuinely speaks for all of them, not just Wall Street while hypocritically mouthing old platitudes about helping the middle and working classes. People don’t want to be sold down the river again, as they were in the Bankers’ Bailouts of 2008 and 2009, and the only ones who could blame them are mainstream, corporatist Democrats who haven’t learned a thing from that time or from the Debacle of 2016.
β€” Ed.

 

Talking Heroes

 

Arizona Republican Senator John McCain died on August 25 after a long battle with brain cancer, and since then there has been much discussion nationwide of his role as an American hero both for his service in Vietnam and as a political figure afterward. Less noticed was the 63 month jail sentence imposed on former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Reality Winner on August 23 at a federal court in Georgia for supposedly violating the Espionage Act of 1917. Ms. Winner had in early 2017 turned over to online investigative news outlet The Intercept classified documents relating how the Russians had meddled in the 2016 presidential election. For many people and for Ms. Winner herself, what she did was more whistleblowing about malfeasance in the United States government than espionage on behalf of a foreign power because the NSA obviously knew of the meddling but for reasons it won’t specify sat on that information.

 

We Support Whistleblowers Free Bradley Manning (Chelsea Manning) Twin Cities Pride Parade (9181428436)
2013 Twin Cities Pride Parade in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in support of whistleblower Bradley (later Chelsea) Manning. Photo by Tony Webster.

Reality Winner is the latest in a recent series of whistleblower defendants to be charged by the government under the Espionage Act, starting in the Barack Obama administration. The most notable whistleblowers charged have been Army Private First Class Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning in 2010, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer John Kiriakou in 2012, and NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013. Ms. Manning and Mr. Kiriakou have served time in prison, and Mr. Snowden lives as an asylum seeker in Russia. The Espionage Act was always a draconian piece of legislation open to abuse by authoritarians in power, but it is only in the past ten years that those authoritarians have enlisted it to hammer down on whistleblowers to intimidate others into silence.

Calling whistleblowers national heroes in no way takes anything away from Senator McCain. Rather, it broadens the concept of heroes to include those whose patriotism included the courage to speak out against abuses of patriotism and authority by those in power. Sitting quietly by while a foreign power meddles in American elections is not patriotism, and neither is putting a lid on military abuses in Iraq or condoning torture by CIA agents or spying on American citizens at home. Whistleblowing on those abusers and their actions is true patriotism, while using the heavy hand of the Espionage Act to prosecute the whistleblowers is another abuse of government authority.
β€” Vita

To those principled individuals bothered by abuse of authority and ethical dysfunction within any system the two options available are fighting or selling out, as illustrated in this scene near the end of the Mike Nichols film Catch-22, with Alan Arkin as Yossarian, Martin Balsam as Colonel Cathcart, and Buck Henry as Colonel Korn.

 

The Tenor of Our Times

 

Schadenfreude, a German term for taking joy in the misfortunes of others, has unfortunately become a predominant emotion in the public spheres of politics and media. After the 2016 election, some Republicans took more joy in the losses experienced by Democrats than in their own victories. There’s a difference there of feeling something based in negative views or in positive views. The experience of Schadenfreude also has shades of feeling, depending on whether the person laughing at someone else slipping on a banana peel is also the one who threw the peel to the ground.

 

In the first instance, the person is merely an observer, though that person’s laughter at another person slipping on a banana peel may be tinged with additional shades of meaning based on whether the two had any kind of relationship or whether the laugher’s joy comes from a pathetic affirmation of scorn for the unfortunate and a consequent boost to the laugher’s own low self-esteem. It is laughing at someone else’s expense in order to feel better about oneself. Throwing down the banana peel of course adds agency to the scenario, and more if it was done with the intention of victimizing another. The nasty twist comes when the person throwing down the banana peel manages to feel justified by claiming victimization from the person who will slip on it, and therefore in their eyes the person who slips gets just desserts. That is the scenario playing out in public discourse every day now.

HK Sheung Wan mall interior Wet Floor sign n mirror Oct 2017 IX1
A “Wet Floor” sign shaped like a banana peel at a shopping mall in Hong Kong in October 2017. Photo by Zhungwinsumtz.

It’s not hard to find examples, from the fallout of mass killings to the investigation into Russian election meddling; from hateful rhetoric about immigrants to hate crimes against brown-skinned people; from disparagement of liberal attitudes to intimidation of groups and individuals associated with those attitudes, such as Black Lives Matter or Gay Pride; and all of this done with the justification of being the victim. Not everyone who claims to be a victim seeks to redress the wrong they feel through negativity, an example being the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, in which positive attitudes prevailed despite horrifying provocations. Many of the people claiming victim status now as justification for their Schadenfreude, for their trolling of others by tossing banana peels, do so with spurious reasoning springing from self pity over the degradation of their imagined superiority. Claiming their superiority came from God or some other vaunted source and that its erosion by societal forces is evidence of evil at work is magical thinking, and it is damaging everyone.
β€” Ed.

 

Once Bitten, Twice Shy

 

In a surprising development, Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mark Warner (D-VA), and John McCain (R-AZ), recently introduced a bill, called the Honest Ads Act, that would impose the same types of regulations on internet political advertising that have long held sway over political ads in print, radio, and television. What’s surprising about it is why it took this long to regulate online political advertising, and that until now there hasn’t been regulation of the same sort as in other media. A reader of online news could be forgiven for having assumed that internet political ads were subject to regulations similar to what has existed in other media for decades, such as disclosure within the ad of who paid for it. Not so.

What took Congress this long? Congress has been behind the curve for years on technological developments, and so in this case the more relevant question is why are they acting now. The answer is presumed Russian interference in last year’s presidential election, and specifically the placement of advertisements as well as so-called news stories on social media sites that the Russians allegedly intended to influence the election results. All that has yet to be sorted out in ongoing investigations, but in the meantime it will be a positive development to have online political advertisers more openly accountable.


March for Truth (35076251785)
A demonstrator in a Trump mask at one of the March for Truth rallies that took place around the country on June 3, 2017. Photo by kellybdc.

Much has been made over the past year especially, because of the election, of the effect of “fake news” on the electorate, the majority of which now appears to get its news through social media feeds on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Those sites have made noises about doing a better job monitoring the reliability of news sources, but ultimately they cannot effect a major reduction in fake news without entangling themselves in issues of censorship, and consequently losing user trust even beyond the drop in trust they experience when another fake news story makes the rounds.

Forty and more years ago, when there were three national television news outlets and one or more print, radio, and television news outlets in every middling city or larger throughout the country, all of them reliant on a few news service gatekeepers such as the Associated Press, United Press International, and Reuters, the daily news reached a consensus that most people plugged into. There were drawbacks to such centralization, of course, but in general there existed a set of generally agreed upon facts from which disputants could diverge.

Now the news has atomized to the point that someone with a large Facebook following can spread a story with no basis in fact, and those followers will spread the story some more. There are no editors sitting on the story until it is verified. The engineers at Facebook and Twitter are not interested in the job, nor do they seem to think it should be their job. Their job is to watch what their customers watch so that they can boost their company’s revenue by effectively targeting advertising based on those results.

It is as if a newspaper’s staff printed almost everything that came across their desks, with little or no editorial judgment on the contents, and focused most of their energies on the advertisements. A newspaper could not do that because of physical limitations on paper, ink, and space, but an online news feed has no such limitations. A reader can scroll on forever, if so inclined. It’s a buffet that the social media sites are serving up, and it’s in their interest to try to specifically please each person they serve, a task made possible by the interactive nature of the web, where each user click is tabulated as a vote in favor.

From the 1976 film The Pink Panther Strikes Again, Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau shows the foolishness of making assumptions based on limited information.

There’s only a limited amount then that the news feed providers can and should do to monitor the reliability of the content they provide. Every little bit helps, which is why it’s good news that Congress is belatedly getting around to at least subjecting political advertisements to regulations that would alert interested readers to the provenance of online political advertisements, therefore allowing the readers to judge for themselves the veracity of the ads.

Ultimately people who read news online from a multitude of sources have to exercise critical thinking more than ever before in evaluating the reliability of what they are reading. The days of passively accepting the news in predigested form from trusted sources are over, and that’s all for the good really, but it also means being on guard and skeptical more than ever, much as people want to indulge their lazy tendencies toward confirmation bias, or believing what they want to be true.
― Techly

 

Resistance Is Useful

 

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
― Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

 

Since Hillary Clinton’s election loss in 2016, establishment Democrats, including Clinton, have scrambled to put forward excuses for her loss, excluding the shortcomings of the candidate herself, and again Clinton has been at the forefront in that endeavor, casting blame on everyone but herself except in a half-hearted manner which she immediately qualifies and takes back. Now Hillary Clinton says she is “part of the resistance”. By that of course she means the popular resistance to the administration of the person who would not be there had she not been the only candidate the Democratic establishment wanted to run against him.

Hearing Hillary Clinton say she is “part of the resistance” is like hearing the coach whose wooden ineptitude sunk your team into a deep hole in the first half, all while throwing everyone but herself under the bus for the colossal failures of the team, come out with a strident speech at halftime saying she has returned to form now and is ready to resume leadership of the players who had taken it upon themselves to set things right in the second half. No, thanks. Please go away.

The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin is a classic BBC comedy series from the late 1970s, starring Leonard Rossiter as the title character, and John Barron as his boss, C.J., at Sunshine Desserts. With a certain kind of boss, a sense of infallibility and the false support of sycophants becomes the major dynamic.

Hillary Clinton has her adherents even today. They are the same people who insisted during the primaries in early 2016 that they didn’t wantΒ  Bernie Sanders because they wanted someone “who could get things done” and they didn’t want someone like Elizabeth Warren, who wasn’t running but might have been induced to run, because they wanted someone “with Washington experience”. These people, many of them professional, academic, and media elites who presumed to know best, turned a blind eye to the Democratic National Committee’s undermining of Sanders during the primaries. They got the candidate they wanted, and would not listen to the people telling them she was the wrong candidate at the wrong time. Some people saw the defeat coming, even against the weak candidate the Republicans put up, but not these Democratic establishment know-it-alls. A week before the election, they were talking “landslide” for Clinton. Fools.

Then when the election results rolled in these know-it-alls were quick to side with the Clinton camp and blame the rednecks, and not long afterward the Russians, without solid evidence based in demographics of the election results or, in the case of the Russians, anything more than rumors at the time. At any rate, they couldn’t blame themselves! They quickly not only jumped on the resistance bandwagon, but shouted the loudest in order to lead it, unmindful of the hypocrisy of their position, because it was they with their pigheaded insistence on touting the flawed candidate, Hillary Clinton, who did the most to put everyone in the dreadful position the country has found itself in since January 20, 2017. Not the “deplorables”, but them, with their arrogant, dismissive attitude toward the working and middle classes. Now they chant about leading a resistance against a situation they helped create.

Meaningful resistance to the policies of the current presidential administration will come about from a recognition of the failures that brought this situation to bear, and then applying remedies. The Democratic Party has lost its way and no longer represents the interests of the working and middle classes. It now represents the interests of Wall Street bankers and large corporations. The people finally glommed onto that fact in 2016 after eight years of disappointment with Obama, and then being presented by professional, academic, and media elites with a uniquely uncharismatic candidate whose sole reason for wanting to be president appeared to be that it was “her turn”.
Gandhi spinning
Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869 – 1948) at the spinning wheel, late 1940s. Gandhi famously said “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”.
Since the election loss, the Democratic establishment has shown no signs of learning from their mistakes, nor even recognizing them, much less doing anything about them. They continue shifting blame and making excuses. They continue pushing establishment insiders into Party leadership positions and showing lackluster support for the candidacies of Sanders progressives around the country. There is talk of impeaching the President, the Trainwreck-in-Chief, and of the Democrats picking up many seats in Congress and around the country in the 2018 mid-term elections. The impeachment will not happen without more Democrats in Congressional seats, and that will not happen, at least not to the extent that some imagine, without a change of heart, and therefore a real change of policy, within the Democratic party between now and 2018. The Democrats need to appeal to people as something other than Republicans-lite, the position they adopted in the 1990s under the leadership of Hillary Clinton’s husband, Bill. Meanwhile, there will be plenty of opportunists as well as thoughtlessly smug hypocrites and true, useful, believers who will continue to clamor for resistance, without understanding that resistance is futile until they change their own hearts.
― Ed.

 

How Many Russians Does it Take to Screw Up an Election?

Ultimately it was hoped to make articulate speech issue from the larynx without involving the higher brain centres at all. This aim was frankly admitted in the Newspeak word duckspeak […]. Like various words in the B vocabulary, duckspeak was ambivalent in meaning. Provided that the opinions which were quacked out were orthodox ones, it implied nothing but praise, and when the Times referred to one of the orators of the Party as a doubleplusgood duckspeaker it was paying a warm and valued compliment.

― George Orwell, from the Appendix to 1984.

 

The answer to the question headlining this post is “It depends.” If you are a staunch Democrat and keep up with the latest articles from your favored media outlets about the 2016 election, then you might see Russians lurking around every corner, pulling strings to upend Hillary Clinton (mission acomplished!) and boost their boy, now known as our Supreme Leader. If, on the other hand, you are a die-hard Republican faithfully following your favored media outlets, you are apt to think “Russians? What Russians? I don’t see any Russians around here!” You might think that the whole stink about Russians hacking the 2016 election is fake news promulgated by liberal media for consumption by whiny Democratic (or Democrat, dropping the “ic” at the end when the word is used an adjective to make it sound flat and harsh, according to the Newspeak of Newt Gingrich and his kind since the 1980s) losers.

No one really knows how much the Russians may have influenced the election, and may not for a while yet pending sober inquiries from Congress, which seem increasingly unlikely. The majority in this country, who are neither staunch nor die-hard, likely have other things to worry about day by day, and anyway they can see the dispute over the Russians is descending into another ideological fight in a mud pit, and so they would just as soon tune it all out, mostly. Democratic supporters of Clinton will continue to cling to any external source for their candidate’s loss – for it was a loss, not a defeat – rather than face a mirror and admit their party has lost its way, while Republican backers of El Supremo will continue to use the issue as a club – their favorite instrument of debate – to CRUSH (all CAPS, their second favorite instrument!) challenges to his authority and legitimacy. Meanwhile the intelligence agencies, sensing a vacuum and sidling out of their place ever more boldly, have skulked from the shadows in the wings and taken center stage. This is going from bad to worse too quickly. It is doubleplusungood.
― Ed.

 

A Plague on Both Your Houses

Romeo:

Courage, man; the hurt cannot be much.

Mercutio:

No, ’tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a
church-door; but ’tis enough, ’twill serve: ask for
me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man. I
am peppered, I warrant, for this world. A plague o’
both your houses! ‘Zounds, a dog, a rat, a mouse, a
cat, to scratch a man to death! a braggart, a
rogue, a villain, that fights by the book of
arithmetic! Why the devil came you between us? I
was hurt under your arm.

Romeo:

I thought all for the best.

― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (Act III, Scene i).

 

From February 23rd to the 26th, the 447 members of the Democratic National Committee will meet to elect a new chairperson to replace Donna Brazile, who has served as interim chair since Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned. The two leading candidates are Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison and former Labor Secretary Thomas Perez. Ellison is backed by Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, while Perez is backed by more of the Party establishment. It’s anyone’s guess at this point whether the election of a new chairperson will serve to correct the faults within the Party that led to the 2016 election debacle, but the signs are dubious at best.

DNC chair candidate Sally Boynton Brown of Idaho garnered a lot of publicity for her remarks about serving as a voice for minorities, even if that means suppressing the voices of white people. She no doubt meant well, but her ill-chosen phrasing has only stirred the embers from the last election, when the Clinton campaign’s reliance on identity politics and neglect of working class voters, mostly white, in the Rust Belt states led to a decisive turnout for the opposition. It is now almost three months since the election, and the Democratic Party establishment still has not come to terms with their own complicity in losing a very winnable election. They still seek to blame others, such as the Russians for meddling in the election, for which they have negligible evidence, and the Rust Belt voters who upset their apple cart. The continuing denigration of white working class voters by Democratic Party elitists as ignorant, misogynistic, racist “deplorables” shows they are stillΒ  incapable of accepting any blame themselves.

According to psychologists, the five stages of grief are 1) Denial, 2) Anger, 3) Bargaining, 4) Depression, and 5) Acceptance. It’s clear from both public and private rhetoric that many Democrats are still in stages 1 and 2. They have every right to feel that way for a time, though in many cases their anger is misdirected. They should be directing their anger at their leaders rather than the working people those leaders have abandoned and ignored over the last forty years while they courted corporate money and the academic and professional classes. In the past, many so-called deplorables were a part of the Franklin D. Roosevelt coalition that ensured a solidly Democratic Party majority in this country through the middle years of the Twentieth Century, before the Democrats lost their way and decided to mimic Republicans in becoming bedfellows with Wall Street plutocrats, while cynically attempting to retain credibility with a portion of their base by throwing them identity politics sops.

Unfortunately, being mired in denial and anger obstructs recovery, which begins with acknowledging there is a problem, as any twelve step program informs us. Until Democratic Party leaders demonstrate a willingness to stop blaming the Russians and others for their own failings, and thereafter attempt to reform the Party by returning it to the left of center FDR coalition that served the majority of its members well for many years, Progressives will need to look outside the Democratic Party and begin working earnestly to make a third Party a force to be reckoned with. Progressives – and maybe some disgusted Republicans, too – will, like the wounded Mercutio, have to say to the two major Parties, “A plague o’ both your houses!” Let’s hope in the meantime that, unlike Mercutio’s wound, the new era of Supreme Leader doesn’t prove fatal.
― Ed.Β